M. T. Anderson, , illus. by Kevin Hawkes. . Candlewick, $16.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1046-3

In this wittily irreverent picture-book biography, the legendary baroque composer is vividly brought to life. "You'd have to be sure of yourself to wear a wig that gigantic," the author points out archly on the first page, commenting on an accompanying portrait of George Frideric himself. Meanwhile, perched above the ornately decorated text box, a fly (as in "fly on the wall") looks on. This sort of sassy visual and verbal repartee sets the tone for a fresh and funny take on history, and Anderson (Burger Wuss) does a bang-up job of condensing and explaining the major (and more colorful minor) events of the composer's larger-than-life career. For his part, Hawkes has a field day slipping in sly visual asides, including an ancestral portrait that looks down in surprise at the young Handel smuggling a clavichord past his disapproving parents, and a pair of feuding divas in a catfight. Like all grand opera, there's pathos as well, most particularly in the events surrounding the writing of the "Messiah," and Hawkes's lush and sweeping acrylic paintings pick up on the more poignant as well as the puckish elements. The author comically debunks popular myths as well, such as the tradition of a standing ovation during the "Hallelujah Chorus" originating with the king: "This story is almost certainly not true, but it is a good story nonetheless." Unobtrusive sidebars explain a variety of musical terminology, and a discography and timeline of Handel's life are also included. These gifted collaborators deserve a Hallelujah Chorus of their own for this volume, as well as a request for a speedy encore. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)